“Papyrus”, mixed media on panel.

JENNIFER NOLAN: Bringer of joy, wonder and beauty


Artist Jennifer Nolan meets me at the door of her comfortably funky Talahi Island home she shares with husband and fellow painter Bernard Nolan, and her five—yes, five—sons ranging from 7 to 18 years of age. Tall, athletic, tanned, and looking entirely too young to have an 18-year-old, she leads me into the sunny side porch where she and her husband paint side by side. (The couple met in art school; He paints urban scenes and landscapes and shows at Reynolds Gallery).

I am here to discuss Nolan’s upcoming show at Location Gallery which opens this Friday, July 15. 

click to enlarge JENNIFER NOLAN: Bringer of joy, wonder and beauty
“Golden”, mixed media on panel.

As always, master curator and wordsmith Peter Roberts, has produced both a clever title and a deserving nonprofit to be the recipient of the gallery’s profits. 

“Walk Run Swim Fly” features an array of winged, finned, and furred creatures and benefits The Ossabaw Island Foundation.

Nolan grew up in New Jersey and attended SCAD “sight unseen” in the late 90’s at the recommendation of her high school college counselor. 

“SCAD was a good fit for me,” she says. “It was nice when you’re a creative person and you’re always the odd ball, to come to art school where everyone’s an oddball. And Savannah’s that way too. I feel like people are so creative and so interesting here.”

Graduating in 1999 with a BFA in Illustration, Nolan says her major encompassed both painting and drawing skills, but also enabled her to tell a story. Digital art and computers were becoming more prevalent by then, but, she says, “I’m not a computer person. I like paint. I like the sound of the pencil and brush scraping on the paper. I like the tactile quality. I like the smell.”

Nolan became immersed in fine art after graduation, working and showing in the sorely missed art gallery owned by Irene Mayo in the Sandfly neighborhood of Savannah. 

“I did a lot of pet portraits then,” she says, “But after our first baby was born we moved to Atlanta for 14 years to be closer to family. I entered a lot of competitions and shows in Atlanta and did some pop-ups, but my focus was on caring for small children!”

click to enlarge JENNIFER NOLAN: Bringer of joy, wonder and beauty
The shelves in Nolan’s studio display both artwork and affirmations.

Returning to Savannah four years ago (and buying her house as she had chosen her college - sight unseen), Nolan works one day a week with Irene Mayo in Reynolds Square Gallery, and paints six evenings a week in her studio after her smaller children are in bed. In addition to her representation in Reynolds Square, she participates in Location Gallery shows when invited, has the occasional pop-up (look for her at October’s Isle of Hope Art and Music Festival), but work mostly on commission pieces. 

Currently, she is finishing paintings of a shell, a horse, and a couple of dog portraits left over from Christmas commissions, while, of course, busily producing fresh work for “Walk Run Swim Fly.”

Nolan is excited that gallery proceeds will benefit the Ossabaw Island Foundation as, “My work does have a focus on conservation of both flora and fauna. It’s a perfect tie-in.” 

She finds it hard to articulate how she chooses her subjects… In her studio, I see paintings of whales, a moose, a beautiful bee, various birds, and a tiny, simply rendered portrayal of a Texan longhorn to which I’m particularly drawn. She says she’ll go to Oatland Island and take photographs of the owls and the animals, or, in the case of the longhorns, visit a farm in west Georgia, but mostly, her highly realistic paintings are created after studying multiple reference photographs and conducting much internet research, trying to piece together the best way to illustrate the particular animal, fish, bird, or insect she has selected.

click to enlarge JENNIFER NOLAN: Bringer of joy, wonder and beauty
Nolan in her home studio

Nolan’s chosen mediums are watercolor and gouache, supplemented by “these great watercolors that have natural mica in them so there’s a little bit of sparkle.” 

For the first time, pieces for this show incorporate silver and gold leaf, as well as plants she has foraged from her own garden. “I print with the actual flower or leaf,” she says, as she shows me an exquisite painting of a flamingo where the background design was made by dipping papyrus leaves into gold. Other images incorporate dahlias and sunflowers; the background of a small painting of a raven is dotted with amaranth flowers; one of a coyote has bamboo stalks behind him. 

“So, this new style is really layering a lot of my loves… The wildlife…The outdoors…The patterns of the printing process.”

Nolan’s show has over 25 pieces of assorted sizes. All are varnished and UV protected - a fresh and lighter alternative to the traditional way of displaying watercolors behind glass. When I ask her to discuss one or two of her favorites, she responds, “I can’t. It’s like picking a favorite child! And some of them are still in the works.” She explains that she paints the creature, but then looks at it for a while before deciding what needs to be tweaked or added. 

“Like, I’m pretty sure I’ll add some wisteria to the weasel, but I have to feel that out and sit with that for a bit.”

Living close to the marsh, Nolan hopes she has instilled a sense of exploration and love of the natural world in her boys. 

“There are bugs all over this house! I have curiosity cabinets. We all collect stuff. We will take our boat to a little island and spend hours combing it for teeth or little animals, and just observing.”

It is this sense of joy and wonder and beauty that Nolan wants to share through her paintings. 

“I think that is something that’s a little lost in the world right now. We’ve all been a bit on edge these past few years and we’re losing sight of the things we love,” she says. “People connect with things that are beautiful and full of wonder. Like that bee’s eyeball for example,” as she points to her painting, “You can get lost in there. I hope people will make that connection and get lost in the wonder.”

“Art can really help the world. We all need more inner time; A time to appreciate things. Art offers a pause. It’s a great connector, no matter where we stand on political issues. Everyone stops and looks at a beautiful sunset or appreciates a deer with a baby. My goal is to touch people that way.”

The opening reception for “Walk Run Swim Fly” is Friday, July 15 from 6-8pm at Location Gallery, 251 Bull Street. Follow Location Gallery at locationgallery.net and on Instagram @locationgallery and follow Nolan at JenniferNolanArt.com and on Instagram @jen.jen.nolan. The show runs through the end of August and gallery proceeds will benefit the Ossabaw Island Foundation.


Beth Logan

Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Beth Logan had a career in healthcare HR and marketing. An artist and former gallery director, she serves on the board of nonprofit ARTS Southeast and has a passion for showcasing Savannah’s arts community, travel, oil painting, and cocktails!
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